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THE AUTHOR'S PREFACE.
1. To descant on the misfortunes of a person fallen from so high a dignity, who bath also paid his final debt both to nature and his faults, is neither of itself a thing commendable, nor the intention of this discourse. Neither was it fond ambition, nor the vanity to get a name, present or with posterity, by writing against a king. I never was so thirsty after fame, nor so destitute of other hopes and means, better and more certain to attain it: for kings have gained glorious titles from their favourers by writing against private men, as Henry VIII. did against Luther; but no man ever gained much honour by writing against a king, (') as not usually
(1) Mr. D’Israeli the elder, is of a very different opinion. He almost seems to think that Luther owed his celebrity to the condescension of his crowned antagonist. “ Luther,” he says, “ was no respecter of kings; he was so fortunate, indeed, as to find among his antagonists a crowned head; a great good fortune for an obscure controversialist, and the very punctum saliens of controversy. Our Henry VIII. wrote his book against the new doctrine: then warm from scholastic studies, Henry presented Leo X. with a work highly creditable to his abilities, and no inferior
meeting with that force of argument in such courtly antagonists, which to convince might add to his reputation. Kings most commonly, though strong in legions, (*) are but weak at arguments; as they who ever have accustomed from their cradle to use their will only as their right hand, their reason always as their left. Whence unexpectedly constrained to that kind of combat, they prove but weak and puny adversaries : nevertheless, for their sakes, who through custom, simplicity, or want of better teaching, have not more seriously considered kings, than in the gaudy name of majesty, and admire them and their doings, as if they breathed not the same breath with other mortal men, I shall make
performance according to the genius of the age.” [How wonderful that a work “ highly creditable to his abilities” should be “no inferior performance !”] “ Collier, in his Ecclesiastical History, has analysed the book, and does not ill describe its spirit: 'Henry seems superior to his adversary in the vigour and propriety of his style, in the force of his reusoning, and the learn. ing of his citations. It is true he leans too much upon his character, argues in his garter-robes, and writes as 'twere with his sceptre.” (Curiosities of Literature, ii. 27, 28.) I hope Mr. D’Israeli has read these controversial pieces, since he adopts Col. lier's opinion of them : I candidly confess I have not.
(2) Milton here alludes to the following anecdote: “ There was a philosopher that disputed with Hadrian the emperor, and did it but weakly. One of his friends, that had been by, afterwards said to him— Methinks you were not like yourself, last day, in argument with the emperor. I could have arıswered better myself.' "Why,' said the philosopher, would you have me contend with him that commands thirty legions ?'” (Apophthegms, New and Old, No. 160.) Mr. D’Israeli would have thought it some distinction for an obscure philosopher to be confuted by an emperor-by one who could argue with his sceptre.
no scruple to take up (for it seems to be the challenge both of him and all his party) to take up this gauntlet, though a king's, in the behalf of liberty and the commonwealth.
2. And further, since it appears manifestly the cunning drift of a factious and defeated party, to make the same advantage of his book, which they did before of his regal name and authority, and intend it not so much the defence of his former actions, as the promoting of their own future designs; (making thereby the book their own rather than the king's, as the benefit now must be their own more than his;) now the third time to corrupt and disorder the minds of weaker men, by new suggestions and narrations, either falsely or fallaciously representing the state of things to the dishonour of this present government, and the retarding of a general peace, so needful to this afflicted nation, and so nigh obtained; I suppose it no injury to the dead, but a good deed rather to the living, if by better information given them, or, which is enough, by only remembering them the truth of what they themselves know to be here (3) misaffirmed, they may be kept from entering the third time unadvisedly into war and bloodshed. For as to any moment of solidity in the book itself, (save only that a king is said to be the author, a name than which there needs no more among the blockish vulgar, to make it wise, and excellent, and admired,
(3) That is, in the“ Eikon Basilike,” the book he had under. taken to confute.
nay to set it next the Bible, though otherwise containing little else but the common grounds of tyranny and popery, dressed up the better to deceive, in a new Protestant guise, trimly garnished over,) or as to any need of answering, in respect of staid and well-principled men, I take it on me as a work assigned (4) rather, than by me chosen or affected": which was the cause both of beginning it so late, and finishing it so leisurely in the midst of other employments and diversions.
3. And though well it might have seemed in vain to write at all, considering the envy and almost infinite prejudice likely to be stirred up among the common sort, () against whatever can be written or gainsaid to the king's book, so advantageous to
(1) In the second Defence of the People of England, he thus alludes to the origin of the present work. “I had already finished four books, (of the History of England,) when after the subversion of the monarchy, and the establishment of a republic, I was surprised by an invitation from the council of state, who desired my services in the office for foreign affairs. A book appeared soon after, which was ascribed to the king, and contained the most invidious charges against the parliament. I was ordered to answer it; and opposed the Eikonoklastes to the Eikon.”
☺) Dr. Symmons, after dwelling on the impolicy of putting Charles I. to death, since such a transaction could not fail to excite, among so generous a people as the English, great commiseration for the sufferer, (see Clarendon's Hist. &c. vi. 240,) goes on, however, to characterize Milton's work, as follows: “ The Eikonoklastes, or Image-breaker, which was the apposite title affixed to this refutation of the imputed work of royal author. ship, may be regarded as one of the most perfect and powerful of Milton's controversial compositions. Pressing closely on its antagonist, and tracing him step by step, it either exposes the fal. lacy of his reasoning, or the falsehood of his assertions, or the hollowness of his professions, or the convenient speciousness of
a book it is only to be a king's; and though it be an irksome labour, to write with industry and judicious pains, that wbich, neither weighed nor well read, shall be judged without industry or the pains of well-judging, by faction and the easy literature of custom and opinion; it shall be ventured yet, and the truth not smothered, but sent abroad, in the native confidence of her single self, to earn, how she can, her entertainment in the world, and to find out her own readers : few ☺ perhaps, but those few, of such value and substantial worth, as
his devotion. In argument and in style compressed and energetic, perspicuous and neat, it discovers a quickness which never misses an advantage, and a keenness of remark which carries an irresistible edge. It cannot certainly be read by any man, whose reason is not wholly under the dominion of prejudice, without its enforcing a conviction unfavourable to the royal party.” (Life of Milton, p. 322, 323.)
© The best commentary on Milton's poetical works would be found in his prose, where occur, in numberless instances, the same thoughts, the same high tone of feeling, similar images, and, as far as metrical and unmetrical composition can be like, the same expressions, as confer sublimity and beauty on the Paradise Lost, &c. Addressing the heavenly Venus, whom he chose for his muse, he, after the invocation, draws the picture of his contemporary poets ; using much the same language as he here employs in speaking of truth :
- Still govern thou my song,
Paradise Lost, vii. 30. 899. An admirable description of the poets of Charles the Second's reign.